Beastwars, IV: Searching for the Light in Your Time of Dying

Posted in Reviews on June 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

beastwars iv

Beastwars were done after their third album, The Death of All Things (review here), in 2016. The Wellington, New Zealand, four-piece issued that as the final installment of a trilogy following 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and a 2011 self-titled debut (review here), and thereby rounded out an unfuckwithable course run over a five years that seemed to take them too soon. They were there, they were epic, they were gone. It wasn’t until vocalist Matt Hyde, whose guttural sneer is second to none, in sludge or otherwise, underwent cancer treatment in 2017 that the prospect of a fourth long-player — whether an epilogue or a new beginning, I don’t know — was broached. From the always-stunning Nick Keller artwork through the massive crunching groove that rolls through “This Mortal Decay” courtesy of returning guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan “Nato” Hickey, the eight-song/37-minute IV is very much a Beastwars album.

Its impact is hued from heavy and noise rocks, brought to bear with a progressive metal sense of grandeur particularly in lead lines like that of “Storms of Mars,” “This Mortal Decay,” “Omens” and “Sound of the Grave,” and its rhythmic plunder is still sludge despite a coherence of purpose both rare for the genre and consistent throughout Beastwars‘ studio work. More perhaps than anything they’ve done before, IV centers around the context of its making and the lyrical processing borne out from Hyde‘s confronting his mortality in a very real way before eventually entering remission, as opener “Raise the Sword,” “Wolves and Prey” and “Storms of Mars” would seem to couch personal experience in metaphor, but in truth, they’re pretty up front about what’s happening in them, as the lines in the leadoff go, “Breathe long/Breathe wise/Don’t fall/Raise the sword.” Maybe without knowing the situation around which the album came together, one might just think it’s a story about a battle on a hillside or something, but once one knows what’s really going on, the relation of what Hyde went through existentially and literally is fairly direct. Beastwars have never been a band to shirk confrontation.

Each side of IV begins with its longest track (double points), as “Raise the Sword” and “Omens” set the stage for their respective halves of the tracklisting, the former with its unmitigated largesse and the latter with a broader range that continues to play out across the subsequent pieces. Throughout, Beastwars‘ efficiency of songwriting and hard-hit pummel is well intact, as Hickey shows early on in his snare battery and Woods in the punch of chugging bass that coincides. The initial salvo very much establishes Beastwars‘ core approach, with a sampled speech from 1985’s The Quiet Earth included in the 6:40 “Raise the Sword” for maximum dramatic effect ahead of a feedback-soaked transition into the apex and the faster and immediate push of “Wolves and Prey.” Tense in the guitar and bass and as powerful as the band have ever sounded in the complete affect, the second track rolls out relatively quick but is still well in line atmospherically with “Raise the Sword” before it, and the same applies to “Storms of Mars” after, with its slower, nod-ready pace and punctuating drums behind Hyde‘s maddening snarl, an almost punkish thrust taking hold at around 2:45 to signal the shift into a cacophony as pure as anything I’ve ever heard from them, Anderson‘s guitar cutting through with a moment-of-clarity solo even as the track readies to cut out all the instruments behind the lines, “You can never get away/From your mortal decay.”

beastwars

Short of setting a treatment diary to verse, I’m not sure how much more direct IV could be in its subject matter. It does not make for easy listening — particularly if you’ve ever dealt with or dealt with a loved one in similar circumstances, which I think counts basically everybody on the planet — but the directness extends to IV‘s overarching purpose of expression as well, a very real catharsis playing out amid all this tumult and questioning. I don’t know what the deal was with Beastwars‘ breakup following The Death of All Things — seems fair to speculate they knew it was coming at least on some level, given that title — but they obviously came back together united around a purpose, and IV manifests that palpably for the listener.

Perhaps all the more so in its final four tracks, as “Omens” indeed proves to foreshadow a wider sonic reach with highlight guitar work and a fierce emotionality that will soon enough come to fruition on the raw highlight of the penultimate “The Traveller” after the bass-led turmoil of “Sound of the Grave” unfolds in a three-and-a-half-minute linear build that comes on in brooding fashion and ends up in a wash of noise. Unlike “Omens,” which retains a subtle hook throughout its 5:41, “Sound of the Grave” feels more about the tooth-pull/gut-punch resonance that stays heavy even when the band reels back for a final shove heading into the last minute. A sudden stop brings on “The Traveller,” which is gorgeous and flayed with far back vocals over atmospheric guitar at its start and building forward from there also in a linear way, but with an infusion of avant guitar melody and lyrics from Hyde that seem to evoke an out-of-body experience, blessing travelers and homes and, ultimately “…this world that we all must leave.” In a universe of many kinds of heavy, I don’t think there is one meaning of the word to which that doesn’t apply.

Still, it’s not until the piano starts in “Like Dried Blood” that one fully realizes just how far Beastwars have taken the thread since “Wolves and Prey,” and as the finale plays out over its 4:40, it is more culmination than summation, but still righteously weighted in its last movement, using the crush that the band have always so ably wielded for maximum emphasis before cutting with a quick jolt of feedback and amp noise — a cold end that feels no less intentional than every bit of facing death that’s happened before. I won’t profess to know if Beastwars‘ reunion/reignition is an ongoing thing — if they’ll do a fifth record or what — but IV doesn’t strike me as having such considerations. That is, certainly Hyde and company have plenty to say, but these songs are more about their own urgency than about longterm band plans. It’s not a record they made to go on tour with. It’s a record they made because life is fucking precious and sometimes you come to realize what matters to you and what you need are the same thing. As such, it is all the more essential it be engaged in the present. Because it is.

Beastwars, IV (2019)

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Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension: Finding Inner Space

Posted in Reviews on May 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe Align in the Fourth Dimension

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hamilton, New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson founding Lamp of the Universe as his primary solo outlet. At the time, he was best known as the guitarist of underrated pre-social-media heavy psychedelic rockers Datura, but in the years since, in addition to founding the trio Arc of Ascent at the dawn of this decade, he’s become a guru of mantra psych, acid folk and, of late, effects-swirling cosmic serenity. Lamp of the Universe is still identifiable from its 1999 debut, The Cosmic Union (review here), not the least because of Williamson‘s enduring penchant for sitar and his vocal style, but as one might hope over the course of 11 albums, the scope has increased for Lamp of the Universe, and the latest full-length for Sulatron Records, Align in the Fourth Dimension, puts emphasis on inward and outward exploration, with Williamson blending guitar and keys, percussion and voice, and always a lush and languid sense of melody that finds songs like “Light Receiver” and the later “Absolution Through Your Third Eye” poised and thoughtful works of assured execution.

Really, the same could be said of the eight-track/46-minute release as a whole. It’s the work of someone who has long since mastered the form but continues to refine processes naturally over time while keeping a central creative identity, shamanic in this case, but not at all overwrought or cartoonish. In some ways, Align in the Fourth Dimension, particularly in its acoustic-led side-closing tracks “New Forms” on side A and “Seasons of Love” on side B, calls back directly to the beginnings of the project in terms of the atmosphere created, somehow minimalist and spacious at the same time, but Williamson‘s arrangements have fleshed out. Layers of effects or keys/synth of various stripes give Lamp of the Universe a broader range, and even though opener “Visitors” is among the shortest inclusions at 4:39 — the CD-only penultimate cut “Call from Beyond” is the only one shorter, by a full minute — the context its backing waves of modular synth undulations and solar wind, eventual string-mellotron drama and slow-delivered vocal lend to the beginnings of Align in the Fourth Dimension is resonant enough to affect everything that follows. This, of course, is precisely the idea.

I don’t know at what point Williamson bought the organ that features so prominently on second track “Rite of Spheres” — seems to me it was a few albums ago — but it was the right choice. Still, it’s the drums that really make the difference. Williamson will generally employ some manner of percussion, but it’s not always a traditional drum set. Cymbals and snare and kick drum with quick fills maybe on a floor tom (?) give “Rite of Spheres” its pervasive sense of movement beneath the organ line and watery vocal. The drums are far back in the mix until the three-minute mark, when they come forward following a cymbal sweep and propel and electric guitar solo that puts even further emphasis on the full-band feel before the last fadeout leads to “Light Receiver.” With just a shaker for percussion, “Light Receiver” is a wash of melody in mellotron and guitar and sitar, etc., with an especially memorable chorus that holds to the rhythmic style of delivery one has come to expect from Lamp of the Universe, and it comes paired with the ultra-immersive “New Forms,” which feels more linear in its execution, but is gorgeously hypnotic while answering back the ambient spirit of the opener at the same time.

lamp of the universe

It’s by no means still, but the intertwining of acoustic guitar, soft eBow-sounding electric and effects, along with a purposeful-seeming lack of percussion, seems only to make it all the more gracefully fluid. As noted, it’s how the first half of Align in the Fourth Dimension ends, and the subsequent “The Leaving” begins side B with a likewise peaceful spirit, acoustic strum, vocals and organ flowing easily over the early going of the song only to turn more dramatic past the three-minute mark with the arrival of a fuzzy plugged-in solo, distant cymbal splash and general uptick of energy. It’s the organ and acoustic guitar though that hold sway when all is done, and “The Leaving” goes smoothly into “Absolution Through the Third Eye,” which sees the return of hand percussion and sitar along with a backing drone filling out the mix ahead of an echoing electric guitar lead that’s a subtle highlight of the album in its entirety not so much for what’s played as how it’s presented so seamlessly with its surroundings. The verse returns after with all the more a sense of drift, and makes its way eventually out, leaving “Call from Beyond” to push as far into minimalism as Lamp of the Universe will go.

Obviously, a big part of the appeal for Lamp of the Universe as an ongoing entity is Williamson‘s skill at varying arrangements for his material and his tack as a multi-instrumentalist. Working mostly alone if not always entirely alone, he’s able to bring either breadth of scope or deep-running intimacy to his craft in a way that is continually engrossing. With “Call from Beyond,” it’s the latter. Just him and his acoustic guitar. A bit of echo, but it seems to be mostly a single layer throughout, and I’d be surprised if at least the basic performance track wasn’t done live. As a “bonus” to the CD, it’s a standout, and placed well ahead of the finale and longest inclusion, “Seasons of Love,” which at 8:49 conjures a reach entirely its own with percussion, synth, acoustic guitar, more eBow, harmonized vocals and a flow unto itself that nonetheless makes a fitting conclusion to Align in the Fourth Dimension as a whole.

There is a linear flow that ties together Williamson‘s output as Lamp of the Universe that one can trace back across the last two decades, and for an ongoing project like this, it can be intimidating for a new listener to dig in. The age-old “where to start” dilemma. That’s fair. With 11 albums, who the hell knows. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter. And even less here than with many others. The overarching style and sound of Lamp of the Universe is welcoming enough that whether Align in the Fourth Dimension is someone’s first experience or they bought Heru from Williamson on MySpace in 2005, it isn’t going to make a difference. It’s about cosmic freedom — certainly not about to play the elitist. So, while time is often thought of as the fourth dimension and Williamson here aligns with it in a way that evokes a sense of infinity beyond what a human might conceive, I’ll just note that now would be as good a moment as one could ask for to get on board.

Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension (2019)

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Beastwars to Release IV June 28; Lyric Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

beastwars

I didn’t expect another Beastwars record after their third, The Death of All Things (review here), seemed to come accompanied by a contentious breakup. But obviously situations change and after a cancer scare on the part of vocalist Matt Hyde, the devastating New Zealand sludge rockers are back with IV in June, and they’re streaming a lyric video for one of the tracks now. Those familiar with the four-piece’s prior work will be glad (and perhaps terrified) to hear their sense of unmitigated sonic largesse remains undiminished, and as one gets ready to dig into the album, it’s fully with the expectation of being crushed from multiple angles.

“Omens,” of course, bodes well in that regard.

This from the PR wire:

beastwars iv

BEASTWARS RETURN: New Zealand Heavyweights Revisit The Riff with New Album | Release Video for ‘Omens’ Single

New album chronicles vocalist Matt Hyde’s battle with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma – “The fear of death is enough to make you want to live”

Beastwars’ IV is released 28th June 2019 on Destroy Records

Pre-order the album Big Cartel / Bandcamp

Returning in 2019 with what will undoubtedly become one of this year’s most revelatory releases, IV, the fourth installment in Beastwars’ canon is life affirming in more ways than one.

So heavy and heavily admired around the world, New Zealand’s legendary metallers are back this June with a new lease of life – quite literally – following vocalist Matt Hyde’s recovery from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. After undergoing six months of treatment in 2016 he is now in remission and today the band announces their long-awaited return, along with the release of their first single in three years, ‘Omens’.

Shaped by Hyde’s recent experiences through his diagnosis and subsequent treatment, he was given an opportunity to look into the abyss, beyond life as we know it. “Throughout the treatment I was numb,” he explains. “It’s interesting to have the ability to confront that, to confront the void, to confront the idea of mortality. I didn’t make peace with it either.”

The experience and loneliness in isolation of treatment gave Hyde plenty to consider. Life, friendships and relationships, especially with his then ten-year-old daughter resulted in a record that leaves nothing unsaid. “I was lucky that I had music to express what had happened to me,” Hyde says. “A lot of people don’t have that. I was very lucky that we could make a record. I took the time to process it and turned it into something else.”

In 2011, Beastwars released their self-titled debut to critical acclaim and in doing so transformed New Zealand’s metal landscape forever. Reviewers celebrated the album’s, slow-burning blend of lysergic and premonitory metal and compared the band to Kyuss, Neurosis and Godflesh, while hinting at influences as diverse as The Jesus Lizard, Black Sabbath, and in Hyde’s ‘avant-grunt’, Celtic Frost.

Two years on from their internationally acclaimed debut, Beastwars returned in 2013 with Blood Becomes Fire, delivering ten songs that retained the strength and psychedelic power of their first while presenting a kinetic evolution in vision. Closing the post-apocalyptic trilogy, 2016’s The Death Of All Things signalled the long overdue arrival of one of metal’s best-kept secrets, out from under and ready to take on the world full tilt.

To celebrate the band’s fearless return to the fold, Beastwars will tour New Zealand and Australia in June/July (see below) and perform at the Dead of Winter Festival in Brisbane.

IV, the new album from Beastwars will be released on Friday 28th June 2019 and can be pre-ordered on limited edition vinyl, cassette, CD at http://www.beastwars.bigcartel.com. It will also be available across all digital stores and streaming platforms at http://ffm.to/beastwarsIV.

IV ALBUM RELEASE TOUR
With special guest Witchskull (AUS)
28/6 – San Fran Wellington
29/6 – Galatos – Auckland
5/7 – Blue Smoke – Christchurch*
6/7 – The Cook – Dunedin*
11/7 – Crowbar – Sydney (w. Potion)
12/7 – The Gershwin Room – Melbourne (w. Dr. Colossus + Droid)
13/7 – Dead of Winter Festival – Brisbane*
*Dates without Witchskull

TRACK LISTING:
1. Raise the Sword
2. Wolves and Prey
3. Storms of Mars
4. This Mortal Decay
5. Omens
6. Sound of the Grave
7. The Traveller
8. Like Dried Blood

BEASTWARS:
Clayton Anderson – Guitar
Nathan Hickey – Drums
Matt Hyde – Vocals
James Woods – Bass

Produced by Beastwars and James Goldsmith
Recorded by James Goldsmith at The Blue Barn, Wellington, NZ
Mixed by Andrew Schneider at Acre Sound, New York, USA
Mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege, Portland, USA
Artwork by Nick Keller (www.nickkellerart.com)

https://www.facebook.com/beastwars666/
https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/beastwarsband
https://www.instagram.com/beastwarsband/
http://www.obeytheriff.com

Beastwars, “Omens” lyric video

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Quarterly Review: Stuck in Motion, AVER, Massa, Alastor, Seid, Moab, Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Into Orbit, Super Thief, Absent

Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Let the games begin! The rules are the same: 10 albums per day, this time for a total of 60 between today and next Monday. It’s the Quarterly Review. Think of it like a breakfast buffet with an unending supply of pancakes except the pancakes are riffs and there’s only one dude cooking them and he’s really tired all the time and complains, complains, complains. Maybe not the best analogy. Still, it’s gonna be a ton of stuff, but there are some very, very cool records included, so please keep your eyes and your mind open for what’s coming, because you might find something here you really dig. If not, there’s always tomorrow. Let’s go.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Stuck in Motion, Stuck in Motion

stuck in motion self-titled

The classic style cover art of Swedish trio Stuck in Motion‘s self-titled debut tells much of the story. It’s sweet-toned vintage-style soul rock, informed by Graveyard to some degree, but more aligned to retroism. The songs are bluesy and natural and not especially long, but have vibe for weeks, as demonstrated on the six-minute longest-track “Dreams of Flying,” or the flute-laden closer “Eken.” What the picture doesn’t tell you is the heavy use of clavinet in the band’s sound and just how much the vintage electric piano adds to what songs like “Slingrar” with its ultra-fluid shifts in tempo, or the sax-drenched penultimate cut “Orientalisk.” Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Max Kinnbo, drummer Gustaf Björkman and bassist/vocalist/clavinetist Adrian Norén, Stuck in Motion‘s debut successfully basks in a mellow psychedelic blues atmosphere and shows a patience for songwriting that bodes remarkably well. It should not be overlooked because you think you’re tired of vintage-style rock.

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AVER, Orbis Majora

aver orbis majora

Following up their 2015 sophomore outing, Nadir (review here), which led to them getting picked up by Ripple Music, Australia’s AVER return with the progressive shove of Orbis Majora, five songs in 50 minutes of thoughtfully composed heavy progadelica, and while it’s not all so serious — closer “Hemp Fandango” well earns its title via a shuffling stonerly groove — opener “Feeding the Sun” and the subsequent “Disorder” set a mood of careful craftsmanship in longform pieces. The album’s peak might be in the 13-minute “Unanswered Prayers,” which culls together an extended linear build that’s equal parts immersive and gorgeous, but the rest of the album hardly lacks for depth or clarity of purpose. An underlying message from the Sydney four-piece would seem to be that they’re going to continue growing, even after more than a decade, because it’s not so much that they’re feeling their way toward their sound, but willfully pushing themselves to refine those parameters.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Massa, Walls

massa walls

Flourish of keys adds nuance to Massa‘s moody, heavy post-rock style, the Rotterdam-based trio bringing an atmosphere to their second EP, Walls, across five tracks and 26 minutes marked by periodic samples from cinema and a sense of scope that seems to be born of an experimental impulse but not presented as the experiment itself. That is, they take the “let’s try this!” impulse and make a song out of it, as the chunky rhythm of instrumental centerpiece “Expedition” or the melodies in the prior “#8” show. Before finishing with the crash-into-push of the relatively brief “Intermassa,” the eight-minute “The Federal” complements winding guitar with organ to affect an engaging spirit somewhere between classic and futurist heavy, with the drums holding together proceedings that would seem to convey all the chaos of that temporal paradox. Perhaps it was opener “Shiva” that set this creator/destroyer tone, but either way, Massa bask in it and find a grim sense of identity thereby.

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Alastor, Slave to the Grave

alastor slave to the grave

The first full-length from Swedish doomplodders Alastor and their debut on RidingEasy Records, late 2018’s Slave to the Grave is the four-piece’s most expansive offering yet in sonic scope as well as runtime. Following the 2017 EPs Blood on Satan’s Claw (review here) and Black Magic (review here), the seven-song/56-minute offering holds true to the murk-toned cultism and dense low-end rumble of the prior offerings, but the melodic resonance and sense of updating the aesthetic of traditional doom is palpable throughout the roller “Your Lives are Worthless,” while the later acoustic-led “Gone” speaks to a folkish influence that suits them surprisingly well given the heft that surrounds. They make an obvious focal point of 17-minute closer “Spider of My Love,” which though they’ve worked in longer forms before, is easily the grandest accomplishment they’ve yet unfurled. One might easily say the same applies to Slave to the Grave as a whole. Those who miss The Wounded Kings should take particular note of their trajectory.

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RidingEasy Records website

 

Seid, Weltschmerz, Baby!

seid-weltschmerz_baby-web

If Norwegian space-psych outfit Seid are feeling weary of the world, the way they show it in Weltschmerz, Baby! is by simply leaving it behind, substituting for reality a cosmic starscape of effects and synth, the odd sample and vaguely Hawkwindian etherealism. The centerpiece title-track is a banger along those lines, a swell of rhythmic intensity born out of the finale of the prior “Satan i Blodet” and the mellow, flowing “Trollmannens Hytte” before that, but the highlight might be the subsequent “Coyoteman,” which drifts into dream-prog led by echoing layers of guitar and eventually given over to a fading strain of noise that “Moloch vs. Gud” picks up with percussive purpose and flows directly into the closer “Mir (Drogarna Börjar Värka),” rife with ’70s astro-bounce and a long fadeout that’s less about the record ending and more about leaving the galaxy behind. Starting out at a decent clip with “Haukøye,” Weltschmerz, Baby! is all about the journey and a trip well worth taking.

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Sulatron Records website

 

Moab, Trough

moab trough

A good record tinged by the tragic loss of drummer Erik Herzog during the recording and finished by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis and bassist Joe Fuentes, the 10-track/39-minute Trough demonstrates completely just how much Moab have been underrated since their 2011 debut, Ab Ovo (discussed here), and across the 2014 follow-up, Billow (review here), as they bring a West Coast noise-infused pulse to heavy rock drive on “All Automatons” and meet an enduring punker spirit face first with “Medieval Moan,” all the while presenting a clear head for songcraft amid deep-running tones and melodies. “The Will is Weak” makes perhaps the greatest impact in terms of heft, but heft is by no means all Moab have to offer. With the very real possibility this will be their final record, it is a worthy homage to their fallen comrade and a showcase of their strengths that’s bound someday to get the attention it deserves whenever some clever label decides to reissue it as a lost classic.

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Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Split

primitive man unearthly trance split

Well of course it’s a massive wash of doomed and hate-filled noise! What were you expecting, sunshine and puppies? Colorado’s Primitive Man and Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance team up to compare misanthropic bona fides across seven tracks of blistering extremity that do Relapse Records proud. Starting with the collaborative intro “Merging,” the onslaught truly commences with Primitive Man’s 10-minute “Naked” and sinks into an abyss with the instrumental noisefest “Love Under Will,” which gradually makes its way into a swell of abrasive drone. Unearthly Trance, meanwhile, proffer immediate destructiveness with the churning “Mechanism Error” and make “Triumph” dark enough to live up to its most malevolent interpretations, while “Reverse the Day” makes me wonder what people who heard Godflesh in the ’80s must’ve thought of it and the six-minute finishing move “418” answers back to Primitive Man‘s droned-out anti-structure with a consuming void of fuckall depth. It’s like the two bands cut open their veins and recorded the disaffection that spilled out.

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Relapse Records website

 

Into Orbit, Shifter

Into Orbit Shifter

Progressive New Zealander two-piece Into OrbitPaul Stewart on guitar and Ian Moir on drums — offer up the single Shifter as the answer to their 2017 sophomore long-player, Unearthing. The Wellington instrumentalists did likewise leading into that album with a single that later showed up as part of a broader tracklist, so it may be that they’ve got another release already in the works, but either way, the 5:50 standalone track finds them dug into a full band sound with layered or looped guitar standing tall over the mid-paced drumming, affecting an emotion-driven atmosphere as much as the cerebral nature of its craft. Beginning with a thick chug, it works into more melodic spaciousness as it heads toward and through its midsection, lead guitar kicking in with harmony lines joining soon after as the two-piece build back up to a bigger finish. Whatever their plans, Into Orbit make it clear that just because something is prog doesn’t mean it needs to be staid or lack expressiveness.

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Super Thief, Eating Alone in My Car

super thief eating alone in my car

Noise-punk intensity pervades Eating Alone in My Car, the not-quite-not-an-LP from Austin four-piece Super Thief. They call it an album, and that’s good enough for me, especially since at about 20 minutes there isn’t much more I’d ask of the thing that it doesn’t deliver, whether it’s the furious out-of-mindness of minute-long highlight “Woodchipper” or the poli-sci critique of that sandwiches the offering with opener “Gone Country” immediately taking a nihilist anti-stance while closer “You Play it Like a Joke but I Know You Really Mean It” — which consumes nearly half the total runtime at 9:32 — seems to run up the walls unable to stick to the “smoke ’em if you got ’em” point of view of the earlier cut. That’s how the bastards keep you running in circles, but at least Super Thief know where to direct the frustration. “Six Months Blind” and the title-track have a more personal take, but are still worth a read lyrically as much as a listen, as the rhythm of the words only adds to the striking personality of the material.

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Learning Curve Records website

 

Absent, Towards the Void

absent towards the void

Recorded in 2016, released on CD in 2018 and snagged by Cursed Tongue Records for a vinyl pressing, Absent‘s Towards the Void casts a shimmering plunge of cavernous doom, with swirling post-Electric Wizard guitar and echoing vocals adding to the spaciousness of its four component tracks as the Brasilia-based trio conjure atmospheric breadth to go along with their weighted lurch in opener “Ophidian Womb.” With tracks arranged shortest to longest between eight and a half and 11 minutes, “Semen Prayer,” “Funeral Sun” and “Urine” follow suit from the opener in terms of overall approach, but “Funeral Sun” speeds things up for a stretch while “Urine” lures the listener downward with a subdued opening leading to more filth-caked distortion and degenerate noise, capping with feedback because at that point what the hell matters anyway? Little question in listening why this one’s been making the rounds for over a year now. It will likely continue to do so for some time to come.

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Arc of Ascent & Zone Six, Split LP: Seeds in Hyperspace

Posted in Reviews on December 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

arc of ascent zone six split

Among the releases one might encounter and consider a no-brainer, a split LP that finds Arc of Ascent and Zone Six sharing room has to be among the easiest of duh-inducers. “Wait, you mean you’re going to pair up New Zealand cosmic metaphysical rock with German prog-infused space stoner jams? It’ll never work! It’s too crazy!” Except it’s not. At all. It’s brilliant. And it does absolutely work. Headspin Records is the imprint no-doubt-proudly standing behind the vinyl pressing, and if I hadn’t already posted my list of the year’s best short releases — which it would count as because it’s a split, i.e. basically an EP from each band — surely Arc of Ascent and Zone Six‘s combined efforts would’ve earned a place thereupon. Running 45 minutes with two extended cuts from Arc of Ascent and one even-more extended piece from Zone Six, it’s the kind of release that I consider writing about doing myself a favor because it means I get to listen to it a bunch of times.

For Arc of Ascent, their “Black Seed” and “Serpents 25” stand in as their first offering since marking their return from hiatus with 2017’s Realms of the Metaphysical (review here), and both songs bear the hallmarks of craft belonging to bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson. Also known for his work as the acid-drenched one-man outfit Lamp of the Universe, Williamson brings a fervent, crunching progression to “Black Seed” set to the riffs from guitarist Matt Cole-Baker and the roll of drummer Mark McGeady, who made his first appearance with the band on the last record but seems to have had no trouble fitting in with their spacious and spacey style. “Black Seed” checks in at 12:08 and “Serpents 25” — think of the number 25 as two snakes intertwined, with their heads facing apart from each other — at 11:13, so there’s plenty of time to go exploring, and the three-piece do precisely that while also pushing closer to Williamson‘s work with Lamp of the Universe than they’ve ever done before on the latter track.

As a fan of the band, I’d consider that in itself enough of a forehead-slapper to seek it out, but even for those unfamiliar with Arc of Ascent or Lamp of the Universe or Williamson‘s prior outfit, Datura, the spiritualism of the riffing in “Black Seed” and the push into psychedelic liquidity of “Serpents 25” are enough to make for a rousing introduction to their expanding scope. I’m not sure the origins of the songs in terms of when they were recorded, but it’s possible they were originally intended for a split with The Re-Stoned, and either way, the first of them immediately shows its hook, stomp and nodder groove. It’s quick into the verse and chorus, and while of course it takes its time as a 12-minute song inherently will, the band never really departs from the central structure, such that the maddening heft and crash that emerges in “Black Seed”‘s second half is still cognizant of where it came from.

They don’t go so far as to return to the verse or chorus at the end, but neither do they need to, having not veered so far from them in the first place. To contrast, “Serpents 25” is a reinterpretation of “Master of the Serpents” from the band’s debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), driven by acoustics, hand percussion and Eastern inflection of melody. There is a “plugged” guitar solo that picks up in waves shortly before the midpoint, but even then, the song maintains its peaceful vibe as it cycles through and back to the chorus en route to further acoustic/electric exploration and a finish of sitar. If you told me it was just Williamson handling the instruments, I’d have to believe it — it’s certainly within the range of what he’s done on his own before — but there’s also a fuller sound to the production of “Serpents 25” that fits with “Black Seed” before it and Arc of Ascent‘s work on the whole. It is not, in other words, a three-way split by any other name — although names come into some further curiosity as Zone Six consume the entirety of side B with the 21:52 sprawl of “Hyperspace Overdrive.”

The long-running, on and off-again krautwash purveyors here feature guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, bassist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and apparently-sans-alias drummer Pablo Carneval — otherwise known as the current lineup of Electric Moon. When Zone Six released the live album Live Spring 2017 (review here), they had Rainer Neeff on guitar and Schmidt on drums, so whatever brought the change about, “Hyperspace Overdrive” is essentially Electric Moon playing Zone Six. If that’s not enough to make your head explode, then surely the song itself will. It is a patient, effects-laced space rock wash, all thrust as it bounds out of the atmosphere in the first half — sampled countdown included — before reaching a point of blissful drift in its second movement and returning to ground with even greater velocity and gravity before an ending of leftover thruster burn finishes out.

Energy-wise, it is more active than much of what Electric Moon might produce under that banner, but there’s little mistaking Sula Bassana on guitar and Lulu on bass, the depths and reaches cast by their swirling effects and rhythms. Whatever band you want to call it, “Hyperspace Overdrive” is next-level Hawkwindian, a massive interstellar reach that pushes distortion the way asteroids slam into each other and splinter off in multiple directions. The better part of the last four minutes is dedicated to the ending, which holds out effects drone and a long string of kosmiche minimalism. At the end, the audience departs the wormhole and is somehow back where it started, out of phase with what’s normally thought of as spacetime, but otherwise uninjured. As a fan as well of Zone Six and of the players comprising this incarnation thereof, there’s absolutely nothing more one might ask of its molten flow or turned-on mindset.

Like I said at the outset, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a pairing that works on paper and a pairing that works on a platter. I’ll be interested to see what Zone Six do from here and who’s involved, and Williamson will have a new Lamp of the Universe release out early in 2019 on Schmidt‘s Sulatron Records imprint, so this is by no means the last collaboration between these players/entities. Will we ever get to the point where Williamson sits in with either Zone Six or Electric Moon for a jam? I guess that’s the big question left to answer by this split, but either way, even on opposite sides of the vinyl, Arc of Ascent and Zone Six have no trouble working toward parallel ends.

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Review & Track Premiere: Shallow Grave, Threshold Between Worlds

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Shallow Grave Threshold Between Worlds

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘The Horrendous Abyss’ from Shallow Grave’s Threshold Between Worlds. Album is out Oct. 31 on Sludgelord Records, Cursed Monk Records, Black Voodoo Records and Minor Label.]

All that happens in the first 30 seconds of Shallow Grave‘s second album, Threshold Between Worlds, is a fade-in of an introductory riff, and yet even that seems crushing. The Auckland four-piece made 55-minute their self-titled debut (review here) in 2013 via Astral Projection, and while they’ve trimmed the runtime down to an LP-ready 38 minutes for four songs, the sense of impact remains a major concern. Mostly, I’d think, for seismologists. It is not long after that fade-in that Shallow Grave begin the 10-minute “The Horrendous Abyss” in earnest, with a buzzsaw tone worthy of namedrops like Beast in the Field and Swarm of the Lotus from guitarists Tim Leth (also vocals) and Mike Rothwell, furious low end distortion from bassist Brent Bidlake and an almost noise-rocking rhythm from drummer James Bakker, who succeeds in pushing deeper into “The Horrendous Abyss” while cutting through the mire with a snare that seems to hit with no less of a thud than the toms.

Largesse is the order of business, and business is lethal, but in “The Horrendous Abyss” and onward through “Garden of Blood” (9:41) and side B’s “Master of Cruel” (13:11) and “Threshold Between Worlds” (5:31), the band craft an atmosphere of chaotic churn, marked by vicious noise and, for all the madness unfolding, a feeling that the worst violence is still being held back. To wit, “The Horrendous Abyss,” in its eighth minute, pulls back to minimalist guitar notes, but even these are backed with windy drones, giving all the more a feeling of being alone somewhere in the wild. Presumably, we’ve arrived at the titular locale. That’s actually how the track ends, fading out to let the faster start of “Garden of Blood” come on to stomp itself between the line of sludge and brutalist noise. An angularity of rhythm emerges, and Leth‘s largely indecipherable vocals call to mind Tomas Lindberg in their rasp, but the primary impression thanks to a consistency of tone is still one of lumber, and Shallow Grave take due time to revel in it.

And who would argue? The foreboding is palpable early in “Garden of Blood,” as it was throughout “The Horrendous Abyss,” and before it hits the 2:30 mark, “Garden of Blood” slows its pace to a crawl and lurches-out for the next minute, growing an increasing wash of noise as its march leads toward an inevitable decay, drums cutting out just prior to four minutes in and the volume receding to let an airy guitar take hold momentarily before a momentum of riff picks up — exactly the source of the two band-comparisons above, neither of which one is inclined to make lightly — and shoves forward through the next several minutes, once again increasing in wash before the vocals return, caked in echo and even less human/humane for that. It may not be a horrendous abyss, as the first song was, but neither is it a relaxing beach-day getaway.

shallow grave (photo by Damian McDonnell)

Instead, it is an apex of pummel that reveals the second movement in “Garden of Blood” for the linear build it’s been all along, cleverly concealed by the surrounding onslaught. The last two minutes of “Garden of Blood” are given to a noisy, mechanical-seeming drone that fades out to conclude side A and prepare the ground for “Master of Cruel,” which in effect is the closing argument Shallow Grave will make here. A swell of low distortion provides a bed for the drums to come forward in the mix — bit of a role reversal there, since it’s been the drums anchoring the proceedings all along throughout “The Horrendous Abyss” and “Garden of Blood” — before an impressive and extended scream from Leth brings with it a surge of guitar.

By the time they’re past three minutes deep, the drums are gone entirely, and is the guitar, as they recede completely to a drone as the foundation for a line of standalone guitar soon enough met with cymbal wash. Just when you might think you have them figured out and that they’re starting another forward build in the vein of the preceding cut, instead of making their way through with deceptive patience, they thrust ahead all at once into a huge-sounding plod, brutally delivered before evening out to a steady hi-hat-punctuated roll. They are not yet, it’s worth noting, at the midpoint of “Master of Cruel,” the title of which would seem to betray its ambitions.

That steadying transition leads to a push-pull nod that will consume much of the second half of the track, as the vocals show up amid a proceeding decrease in tempo and increase in noise. By the time they’re 11 minutes deep, the direction is set and telegraphed to the listener: once more into the morass. Undulations of harsh frequencies mark the noisy finish, less about feedback directly than one might think, but still working on another long fade into a drone that shifts directly into the shorter closing title-track, which executes a tonal deathblow in a midsection surrounded on either side by noise. The effectiveness of those elements isn’t to be understated. Drones in the transitions, long fades, etc. — these are the things that help craft the atmosphere that winds up playing such a significant role in the effect of Threshold Between Worlds on the listener.

I won’t take away from the force of their delivery or the intensity of their heaviest moments — how could I? — but it’s the ambient factors that let Shallow Grave‘s sophomore release become more than just a very heavy sludge record and really begin to find its own personality in terms of style. And that personality may be psychopathic, but that still counts. With a half-decade between their debut and Threshold Between Worlds, it doesn’t seem fair to anticipate a follow-up anytime soon from Shallow Grave, but when/if it does happen that they put out a third release, one might expect them to continue to toy with this balance, as it seems so crucial to their purposes overall. At the same time, to think at all of Threshold Between Worlds, it feels less safe making predictions of any sort for what might come. Other than darkness, which most certainly is lurking on the horizon for all.

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Friday Full-Length: Lamp of the Universe, The Cosmic Union

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe, The Cosmic Union (2001)

Whatever you’re doing, stop. Take a minute. Take an hour. Take whatever you need to take, and breathe. That seems to be the underlying message of Lamp of the Universe‘s 2001 debut album, The Cosmic Union. The ongoing psychedelic project was formed and continues to be manned solely by Craig Williamson, guitarist at the time for the underrated Datura, who in 2001 were two years removed from the release of their second and — as would turn out to be — final full-length, 1999’s Visions for the Celestial. Immediately, Lamp of the Universe presented a different direction for the Hamilton, New Zealand-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, engaging richly textured Eastern-influenced acid folk of rare potency. Sitar, tabla, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, chimes, synth, various percussive elements and a cascade of watery melodies lend The Cosmic Union an experimentalist feel, but in the years and numerous offerings since, Williamson has never deviated from the core vibe Lamp of the Universe established its first time out, despite delving into drone, full-band sounds, and other avenues of exploration.

Still, if Lamp of the Universe has always been a project with a mission, part of that mission has been not sounding like a band with a mission. That is to say, to listen to the seeping space-born pastoralism of “Born in the Rays of the Third Eye,” the sense of inner peace that comes through is nigh unmatched in psychedelic realms. Likewise the acoustic strum of the later “Give Yourself to Love,” on which Williamson offers subtle self-harmonies atop birdsong-esque guitar noise and backing swirl. Taken together, “Born in the Rays of the Third Eye,” the subsequent nine-minute highlight “Lotus of a Thousand Petals” and the late wah-soaked electrified soloing atop hand percussion of “In the Mystic Light” form an essential salvo for anyone who would seek to understand Williamson‘s methods. Core elements of Lamp of the Universe are laid as bare as the figures on The Cosmic Union‘s cover art. Key rhythms are set. Melodic progressions are established. Methods are honed. It’s by no means even close to the entirety of the scope that Wiliamson has unfurled with the project over the last 16 years, but it’s definitely the foundation, and as the theme of love as spiritual and physical entity arises in “Give Yourself to Love” and “Freedom in Your Mind” looses itself on organ-flourish and ultimate guitar drift — gorgeous, flowing, and utterly gone — the increasing complexity of the overarching approach does nothing to undercut the resonant ambience or the serenity that seems to emanate warmly from each of the album’s beautiful arrangements, so seemingly minimal and yet so spacious on “Her Cosmic Light” where only a few songs prior, “Lotus of a Thousand Petals” had seemed nearly like an entire group celebration of consciousness and mantra, universe-minded, somehow sexual and coherent despite the fact that its intricacy is the result of one person’s work. Williamson‘s skill as a craftsman is on ready display throughout the eight tracks of the original release, but there never seems to be a formula employed.

Rather, the variety seems to emerge as a result of organic processes, and a balance is struck between experimentalism and poise of songwriting. The peaceful noodling of “Her Cosmic Light” is a prime example of this, but one can hear it all throughout The Cosmic Union as well, whether it’s the uptempo, handclap-ready circle-folk of the sitar-led “What Love Can Bring,” or the immersive hypnotism brought on by “In the Mystic Light”‘s slow-moving liquefied swirl. Beauty is central to the process, and whether it’s longer tracks or shorter, freak folk or freak psych, layered or singular in delivery, Lamp of the Universe‘s debut offers a listening experience unlike anything I’ve encountered since — and make no mistake, I’ve looked. There’s purpose behind it, but the purpose is having no purpose. It oozes forward and yet keeps its feet on solid ground. Its scope is vast and diverse, but it remains deeply human and believable as the output of a lone individual. As “Tantra Asana” closes out with sitar echoing over a backing drone, building to one last consuming, gorgeous melody, keyboards emerging late to further the depth of Williamson‘s arrangement — again, without distracting from the effectiveness thereof — the shimmer of the album as a whole is reaffirmed, and though one couldn’t have known then what was being set in motion, it’s plain to hear across the 50-plus-minute outing that a world is being made, a place in which to dwell.

The Cosmic Union remains a joy to dwell in, and as the beginning point of a Lamp of the Universe discography that’s gone on to include no fewer than 10 full-lengths — the latest of which, Hidden Knowledge (review here), came out last year on Clostridium Records — it is all the more a genuinely special landmark. Williamson has at times over the last half-decade lent his focus more toward the heavy psych rock trio Arc of Ascent, whose third long-player, Realms of the Metaphysical (review here), arrived earlier in 2017, but he seems to perpetually return to Lamp of the Universe — a new split with Kanoi is currently on offer that I’m hoping I get the chance to check out — leading one to believe the project is as essential to him as it should be to anyone who’s ever sought an experience of communion with the aurally lysergic.

Note the version above comes from the Lamp of the Universe Bandcamp page and includes the bonus track “By the Grace of Love.” This is featured on the 2011 reissue that came via Williamson‘s own Astral Projection imprint. The album was originally released via Cranium Records.

Bottom line is I love this record, and I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Interesting week. I guess it started last Friday when The Patient Mrs., The Pecan and I made a daring escape from the hospital and headed home, the baby for the first time. The weekend was kind of a blur. I tried to do as much writing as I could, changed diapers, did daddy-stuff, cleaned as much as possible, made sure The Patient Mrs. was fed and so on. We listened to music. Family came up on Saturday or Sunday. I don’t remember which.

Then the power went out. That might’ve been Monday evening. There was a storm. Apparently a decent section of the Northeast was hit and because it’s 1930 and we put electric wires on poles in the air instead of in the ground where they belong, we lost power. In the three years we’ve lived in this spot, we’ve never had the power go out for more than an hour. New baby home? Two days. Solid. Bound to happen.

I thought we were going to die. I think it was Monday night. We toughed it out changing diapers and doing feedings by flashlight, but it was cold. Tuesday we decided pretty early on to get the hell out of dodge. We had an appointment in Providence on Wednesday anyway, so Tuesday afternoon I packed up the car and drove us the 45 minutes to Rhode Island. The Pecan sleeps in the car anyhow. I hear that’s a baby thing. There was a doctor’s appointment in there — the “you’ve been born” check-in for The Pecan; all is well — I think on Wednesday, and when we got back home after that, the lights had miraculously been turned back on. We damn near wept with joy. Then I made myself a protein shake for dinner. It was unbelievably good.

Yesterday was relatively quiet. A short walk, a daring half-hour of alone time for The Pecan and I while The Patient Mrs. ran an errand, and so on. Today I think we’re going to try to hit Costco, and then family comes up tomorrow, so yeah, goings on going on and whatnot. You might’ve noticed the last couple days have been lighter on posts, today included. That is not a coincidence. I’m doing the best I can and trying to support my wife as best I can.

Real quick, here’s what’s on tap so far for next week. I’m still waiting for some stuff to come together, so this will likely change:

Mon.: Uffe Lorenzen review/track premiere; Josefus live videos.
Tue.: Fireball Ministry review; Iron Monkey video.
Wed.: Maybe a review/premiere of some new Eggnogg.
Thu.: Six Dumb Questions with Great Electric Quest, I hope.
Fri.: Video premiere & album review of the new The Moth.

Pretty busy but hopefully manageable. We’ll see how it goes, and again, things might shift around pending baby stuff and whatnot. He’s been pretty cool to have around thus far though. He doesn’t have much to say at this point — though he grunts like a madman — but it’s been nice to hang out with the little guy after waiting for so long for him to show up.

Have a great and safe weekend, whatever you’re up to, and please don’t forget to check out the forum and the radio stream. Thanks again for reading.

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Bloodnut Premiere Lyric Video for “Burning Bush”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bloodnut photo paul harvey

It might take a second to seep in — it did for me, to be sure — but there is indeed a Metallica reference at root in the title of Bloodnut‘s second full-length, St. Ranga. It’s a slant-rhyme and almost the word backwards, but yeah, it’s there. The low-tuning Auckland, New Zealand-based trio are up to more than just that kind of mischief as well on the follow-up to their also-referentially dubbed 2016 debut, Blues from the Red Sons, which played off their status as a “band of gingers” for the fact that all three current members — bassist/vocalist Doug McFarlane, guitarist Doug Robertson and drummer Ty Boniface — have red hair. Songs like album opener “The Space Orangutan” — hence “ranga”; see also the cover art — and the closing “Song of Fire and Ice” ensure that stoner rock charm is alive and flourishing, and like the densely-packed portion of riffs in those songs and between them, ready to engage full-on nod of a traditional type no less long-standing.

I’m talking about groove, people. Bloodnut do it sludgy, raw at times on St. Ranga, but they do it all the same, taking burl and maybe a bit of speed from High on Fire — the 1:38 punker blast “That Fire Inside” being bloodnut st rangaon its own wavelength, but still fast in following second cut “Mark of the Outcast” — and rolling out low-end plunder that stomps or gallops at will. “The Space Orangutan” is the longest cut at 8:45 (immediate points) and gradually picks up from its initial lumber, but a cut like “Burning Bush” — also spelled “Burning Boosh” in the tracklisting — chugs out mid-paced bass pulsations along with lyrics about, what else?, mismatched head and pubic hair colors. The important question, “What makes you think you have to lie and dye?” hits in the verse and the prepare-to-have-it-stuck-in-your-head shout-along hook, “You think you’re under cover/Me and your mother know the truth/When you get under the covers/Lo and behold, the burning boosh,” follows.

Of course it’s a gag, and St. Ranga is nothing without its winks and nods — the penultimate “Red Dead Riders,” for example, would seem to be about the hazards of being pale in bright sunlight — even in the more severely-themed “Mark of the Outcast,” but the 31-minute long-player offers substance in tone and songwriting as well as humor and its stylistic blend of sludge, heavy rock and punk, and Bloodnut prove themselves right to embrace a sonic persona that seems true to the jokes that might fly around their rehearsal room. It makes the whole album seem more honest.

St. Ranga sees its official release Aug. 1. Below, you can check out the premiere of a lyric video for “Burning Bush” and get some background courtesy of the band.

Bloodnut, “Burning Bush” lyric video

Doug McFarlane on “Burning Bush”:

Burning Bush is a little bit of tongue in cheek fun nestled in the middle of a relatively dark and doomy album by comparison. It is about women who choose to hide their fire under a bushel… or different hair colour to what they have naturally.

The rest of St. Ranga covers things like persecution, religion and Norse mythology, but this song is the one song about the opposite sex that every album requires.

The follow up to the 2016 album – Blues From the Red Sons, St.Ranga is raw, visceral and tuned even lower than their first offering. A sludge filled album that still has tongue in cheek elements, it endeavours to cover the darker side of what it means to be red of hair. With songs that cover religious persecution, the negative myths and history surrounding the 2% you might even get a bit of an education of what it’s like to be ginger.

Recorded in a garage session style by fellow ranga Elliot Lawless (of Greenfog) over one weekend and in a rare 4 piece variant of the band, St. Ranga is a clear evolution from their first offering and perhaps a reaction to the polished bit by bit style of recording utilised on Blues From the Red Sons.

Bloodnut on this album is:
Doug McFarlane – Bass, Vox
Nick Smith – Guitar
Kyle Wetton – Guitar
Ty Boniface – Drums

Tracklist:
1. The Space Orangutan
2. Mark Of The Outcast
3. That Fire Inside
4. Burning Bush
5. Red Dead Riders
6. A Song Of Fire And Ice

Recorded and engineered by Elliot Lawless.
Mastered by Nich Cunningham.

Bloodnut is:
Doug McFarlane – Bass/Vox
Ty Boniface – Drums
Doug Robertson – Guitar

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